Russia considers reducing its ISS crew

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In the heat of competition: Russia is considering reducing its ISS crew from three to two.

“Plans to reduce the crew stem from the fact that less cargo ships are sent to the ISS and from the necessity to boost the efficiency of the program,” the newspaper quotes Krikalev. Apart from that, it will make it possible to lower expenses on the space station’s maintenance.

They haven’t yet made a decision. I suspect that the real reason they are considering this idea is because it will free up a seat on the Soyuz spacecraft that they can then sell to tourists, something they have been unable to do since the station got large enough for the full crew of six and the U.S. became dependent on them for crew ferrying.. By only sending two Russians astronauts up with each Soyuz launch they will then have a free seat for short tourist flights, which had been quite lucrative for them.


  • Dick Eagleson

    Great minds think alike, I guess. Tourist revenue was the first thing I thought of after reading your headline. I’m thinking times are even tougher in Russia these days than I thought – and I thought times were pretty tough there already.

  • Tom Billings

    Every shale oil hole drilled here and fracked drops the revenues the Russian State gets, and strains the programs dependent on the State, as all Russian Space still does.

    The part that interests me is ISS Maintenance. We know that with 6 people in the crew, maintenance took about 5 man-months per month. If one of those crew are removed for substantial periods of time, what will that do to the science output? Of course, we may be able to delay this until Dragon and CST-100 start arriving with 7 people in their capacity. Indeed, that capacity, and the lack of seats sold to the US at $70 million each, may be the biggest drop in revenue that is directly causing the drop in Russian crew supported by Russian revenues.

    Those 2 spacecraft would allow as many crew as needed, and once they replace Soyuz as the escape capsules, the crew can rise to 7 people, doubling the amount of science that can be accomplished. Of course, unless Russia is willing to pay their competitors $20 million to lift cosmonauts, that will be closed to them. This means *eventually* we should see one less Russian and 2 more Americans on ISS before the end of the decade. Then, of course, there will be the Chinese and the private stations moving forwards, which means that with ISS no longer in lone splendor, and won’t be such a useful political flag to wave anymore.

    You can see why Russia *talks* about their own station at this rate. Whether they will be able to fund it depends on oil prices to replace the revenue that Dragon and CST-100 take away.

  • PeterF

    Tom Billings wrote;
    ” If one of those crew are removed for substantial periods of time, what will that do to the science output? ”

    The ISS is an experimental station, in the sense that its mere existence, like MIR and Skylab were experiments just to see if and how humans could maintain an extended presence in low earth orbit.

    All the maintenance IS part of the experiment to see what works and what doesn’t. If I were an asteroid miner, I would not want to live in a habitat that requires continual effort just to stay alive. I would rather save that energy for mining and the inevitable emergencies that will happen in any hostile environment.

    The lessons learned from ISS maintenance will (hopefully) be applied to future habitats that are less complicated and delicate. A Ferrari might look really cool and go fast but if you are traveling cross country with no mechanical services, a Volkswagon beetle is a better choice.

    I predict that serious extraterrestrial emigrants will opt for robust habitats that can typically be repaired with a screwdriver and vicegrips. Commercial manufacturers would do well to embrace the concept that simple is safer. In a competitive market, you don’t get a lot of repeat business if your products tend to kill your customers.

  • mkent

    The thing to remember when talking about the ISS is that it’s not really an integrated station. It’s essentially two separate stations joined at the FGB. As long as the Russians can maintain the attitude control and propulsion systems on their side of the station, the American side of the station can function pretty much independently of the Russian side.

    NASA is buying six Soyuz seats a year at $76.3 million / seat. You can bet the coming loss of $458 million / year of hard currency is causing a lot of consternation within the Russian space program. Tourist revenue will make up only a small portion of that.

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